There’s no shortage of fantastic free entertainment options in Calgary, especially during the warmer months. To get you started, our in-the-know local Mona recommends 10 places and activities that will surely make your trip a memorable one. She also shares her favourite travel stories and top tips over on her blog, Mona Musing.
1. Gaze up at giant sculptures
There are some impressive large-scale public art pieces throughout downtown Calgary. On Stephen Avenue (8th Avenue SW) you’ll find the towering white metallic Galleria Trees and the Women are Persons! sculpture, which is a tribute to the Famous Five.
Photo credit: Stephen Downes
2. Find peace on a bridge
Although only completed a few years ago, the sleek Peace Bridge, designed by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, has quickly become a Calgary icon. It crosses the Bow River, connecting the residential northern side with downtown.
It’s already been praised as one of the world’s top public art spaces because of its innovative design featuring a glass roof, no supporting piers and wide, segregated cyclist and pedestrian lanes.
Photo credit: minniemouseaunt
3. Go western on the Stampede Art Walk
Many visitors know about the Calgary Stampede, an annual 10-day rodeo and exhibition, but few know about the organisation’s long tradition of commissioning public art.
This self-guided walking tour showcases 15 sculptures and murals located in and around Stampede Park, and can be done year-round. It’s a colourful way to learn about Calgary’s western heritage and the history of the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth”. Look for the brochure at the airport information kiosk or download it here.
Photo credit: Mona Csada
4. Explore the hidden secrets of the +15 walkways
If the streets of downtown Calgary look a little empty, look up, 15 feet up, and you’ll notice enclosed glass walkways connecting many of the office towers and shopping centres.
Not only do they allow Calgarians to walk around in weather-protected comfort any time of year, but the mezzanine levels of the connected buildings are packed with cafés, shops, services like shoe-shine stands and public art pieces.
Photo credit: Wikimedia.org
5. Find a hill with a view
Hiking through native grasslands in Nose Hill Park, you might spot squirrels, porcupines, gophers, hawks and even deer and coyotes. Climb to the top of the hill and you’ll be rewarded with lovely city views.
If you’d rather take an easier route to a view, drive the length of Crescent Road. It runs along a ridge north of the river across from downtown, providing stunning views of the skyline. Park, take a walk on the ridgeway and snap a few photos.
For a broader perspective, drive to the top of Scotsman’s Hill for a panoramic look at the Stampede Grounds, downtown and the magnificent Rocky Mountains in the distance.
Photo credit: Geoff Sowrey
6. Step through history on a Heritage Walking Tour
The City of Calgary offers a number of self-guided walks through historical neighbourhoods. Download your brochure of choice and follow along with maps and descriptions of significant sights. The Inglewood, Stephen Avenue and Downtown walks are good places to start, or if you’re feeling brave, try the Union Cemetery tour.
Photo credit: Florian Christoph
7. Savour free pancakes and food samples
Calgary’s farmers markets are great sources of free nibbles. Many vendors offer a taste of their goodies to shoppers, with no obligation to buy. It’s a scrumptious way to try out locally grown and produced food items.
The Hillhurst-Sunnyside Market happens every Wednesday evening. It’s held indoors in winter and outdoors in summer, with bonus Saturday morning markets in the summer months. The Market on McLeod operates indoors Thursday to Sunday all year long.
If you’re visiting in July, your chances of scoring a free pancake breakfast are almost guaranteed. Griddles are fired up all over town during the Calgary Stampede and a few days before and after, too.
Some are official Caravan Breakfasts hosted by Stampede organisers, while others are put on by local businesses to demonstrate their western hospitality. Use the Flapjack Finder website to find a breakfast spot nearby.
Photo credit: Hatters!
8. Stroll through the downtown oasis that is Prince’s Island Park
This huge island park is well-loved by locals, who enjoy the mature trees, riverside pathways, walking trails and picnic spots. In summer you’ll find people tossing Frisbees and footballs, kicking soccer balls and hacky sacks, riding bicycles, practicing Tai Chi or just lounging on the grass. In winter you’ll see cross-country skiers gliding silently across snow-covered trails.
Photo credit: necopunch
9. Take in some outdoor theatre at Shakespeare by the Bow
From late June through late August, one of the city’s largest theatre companies stages free Shakespeare productions in a beautiful park setting. The plays feature recent theatre grads who are expertly coached and trained by local stage veterans. The performances are always well received and best enjoyed with a picnic blanket and your beverage of choice.
Photo credit: Theatre Calgary
10. Admire some art at a gallery or two
If you enjoy modern and contemporary art, go to one or both of Contemporary Calgary’s locations, which are always free to visit. For a mix of 19th-century art, edgy new works, design showcases and historical exhibits, visit the Glenbow Museum on the first Thursday evening of the month when admission is free.
Photo credit: Denise K
Opening photo credit: Michael Gil